Legislators grapple with redistricting plan

CHEYENNE — As state legislators continue to discuss redistricting plans, they debated Tuesday whether a statewide plan should cause the least disruption to current boundaries or be an accurate reflection of Wyoming’s changing population.

By Tuesday afternoon, there were four statewide redistricting plan submittals dated Dec. 28 posted on the Legislative Service Office website, including one adopted and revised Dec. 14.

House Majority Floor Leader Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, approached the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Interim Committee with one of the four plans, which he submitted. Sommers, who is not on the committee, asked its members Tuesday to consider their long-term goals.

As posted online, his plan proposed eight House districts, with population sharing with Region 9 in Carbon and Sweetwater counties for one House district. It also provided an alternative approach for Region 9 for a total of 14 House districts between Region 9 and Region 10, or Lincoln, Sublette, Teton and Uinta counties.

“To highlight one of the issues, it is really tight with population around Evanston,” Sommers said. “But my idea here was to not disrupt, to not district out people. To me, that is one thing you all need to consider is disrupting people.”

On Dec. 14, the committee adopted a plan proposed by Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, who co-chairs the Corporations Committee. Calling that the “Z plan,” Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, said it “redistricts me out of my district.”

“It is extremely disruptive to Sweetwater and Carbon counties, and also, the net effect of that is that you have now taken communities of interest, which is very rural Wyoming, and nested those, one in the city of Cheyenne. And you’ve taken all of southern Carbon County and put it in with Green River,” Hicks said.

Moving one Senate district and two House districts from primarily rural areas into municipalities would “destroy that rural community of interest,” leaving rural areas with a lack of representation, Hicks said.

Zwonitzer pointed out that Hicks’ current district is the largest land mass district in the continental U.S. Sommers’ proposed map, he said, would add another 1,000 to 1,500 square miles to that district.

“Your district shows going from Rock River to Farson to Eden, around Green River and south to Flaming Gorge. Does that concern you?” Zwonitzer said.

“In that 1,500 square miles, there is probably only about 400 people scattered across there,” Hicks said. “It is consistent with being extremely rural, isolated ranches. It makes a consistent community of interest.”

Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, pointed out mid-morning that the committee needs to decide whether it will remain committed to creating Senate districts with two House districts nested inside of them.

“That question needs to fundamentally be answered before we can thoughtfully move forward with a House district plan,” Nethercott said.

Nethercott said the idea of having two House districts within a Senate district has worked well in the past, especially in Laramie County.

“I think sticking through to some of those principles of having predominantly two House districts within a Senate district makes sense, similar to the county principle, but going slightly outside of a House district, I don’t think causes the amount of chaos that we are all feeling it may have,” Nethercott said.

Rep. Shelly Duncan, R-Lingle, asked if perhaps the Legislature could come up with a plan that included both nested districts and multi-member districts, where appropriate.

“Where we have the difficulty in Carbon (County), why couldn’t we do the multi-member and do the nesting elsewhere?” Duncan asked. “That way, if the multi-member seems to gain traction and work, in 10 years, maybe do that everywhere? But couldn’t we do a hybrid of the two to resolve the issue?”

Zwonitzer said that, as a Laramie County legislator, he is concerned that in some of the proposals, six districts in his county are drawn small, at a -6.2% population deviation, and another 14 are drawn at -4.85% deviation, all while Laramie County has experienced significant growth.

“That is uncomfortable,” he said. “It does seem weird to me that the three largest counties in the state are all being forced to draw between 3-5% above deviation, and the other counties are either static or losing population.”

He agreed that Sommers’ plan is the “least disruptive,” but said perhaps that is not the goal.

“We do a census every 10 years and redistricting because of population changes,” Zwonitzer said.

Nethercott reiterated that when the committee began working on redistricting, the principles its members outlined did not include “least disruptive.”

“Our principles were associated with one man, one vote,” she said, adding that Statewide Plan 1, or the “Z plan,” is the most consistent with the principles identified at the beginning of the committee’s redistricting process.

“The purpose is not to keep the least disruption. It actually is to embrace the change that is occurring within our state, based on population and growth, or lack of population and decline,” Nethercott said. “As an elected official, certainly the least disruption feels very comfortable. But it is not actually what needs to take place.”